For this week’s Dairy Focus, Agriland made the trip the Garden county to meet with Danny Haskins on his dairy farm just outside of Wicklow town.
The Coolacork herd consists of pedigree Holstein Friesian and Brown Swiss cows. There is also a number of Holstein and Brown Swiss-crosses within the herd.
Although Brown Swiss cows are a somewhat unusual breed to find in Ireland, they are the second most common dairy breed in the world. They are more commonly found on farms on mainland Europe and in North America.
There are 300 cows being milked on the farm, with a spilt-calving system being operated.
The spring-calving season starts in January and ends in April, while the autumn-calving takes place from September until November.
Over 400ac are farmed; a combination of owned and leased land, with 160ac used for the milking platform.
An out-block is used for heifer rearing, silage and growing maize. Over 200 cows calve in the spring with the remaining 100 calving in the autumn.
A total of five people work on the farm, a combination of full and part-time staff: John, the farm manager, who has been working alongside Danny for 25 years; Jessica, who does all the calf rearing; and two part-time staff.
Since the removal of quotas the farm’s herd size has increased by about 100 cows and the area farmed has increased by about 200ac.
A liquid-milk system was operated on the farm suppling Premier Dairies, with the farm paid on a per-litre basis rather than milk solids.
Once the payment system was changed to being milk solids-based, Danny and John looked at ways of improving the herd’s percentages.
Larry Burke, who gives breeding advice for the herd, suggested that they look at Brown Swiss cows.
Commenting on this, Danny said: “Larry suggested that we go to Germany to look for heifers. I must have been on 25 farms in the two days.
“All the herds over there were 10 and 15 cows, with the families and cows living in the same buildings – the family lived on the floor above the cows.
“The heifers I bought arrived here in 2006. I wasn’t overly impressed with them at the start, but we have learned that they can have a very poor first lactation but a good second one.
“They develop a little bit slower compared to the Holstein, but once they do they are very impressive cows.
“We have found that the Brown Swiss are always leading the way, they want to be first into the parlour and first to grass.
“We have also found that they are a little more stubborn. They can be similar to a donkey at times,” Danny added.
Giving some more insight into the breed and how they have preformed on the farm, Danny said: “They fit in very well with the Holstein breed. They have the same stature, which was the main attraction to them.
“There is almost two breeds within the breed, you have the Brown Swiss and Swiss Brown.
“Some of the breed was brought to North America and they went the more dairy route, while the original breed was a more dual-purpose animal.
“We have been using the North American bulls and have been impressed with the performance.”
Continuing, Danny said: “We have also cross-bred some Holstein and Brown Swiss, which has worked really well for us.
“If we have a Brown Swiss cow that wasn’t producing we have put a Holstein sire to them and they produce some great cows.
“There are about 60 pedigree Brown Swiss within the herd and we are happy to leave it at that number.
“We would sell heifers and there was very little interest in the Brown Swiss at first. Some people would buy one as more of novelty.
“But more recently we are seeing a good demand for Brown Swiss heifers.”
Commenting further, Danny said: “The Holstein breed has massively improved in terms of percentages, with them almost catching up with the Brown Swiss.
“But that has taken 15 to 20 years for that to happen. The difference between the two breeds 15 years ago was massive, but it has greatly reduced due to progression of the Holstein breed.
“Our Holstein cows are averaging about 7,000L, with the Brown Swiss averaging about 6,000L – but the Brown Swiss are still slightly better in terms of solids.”
Feeding on this dairy farm is somewhat unusual with no concentrates fed in the milking parlour. Instead, cows are buffer fed outside the parlour.
John stated: “We have no feeders in the parlour, we have a drafting gate and cows get drafted for buffer feeding.
“Some of the lower yielding cows would get nothing at times during the summer other than grass.
“Cows that are approaching the end of lactation and are in good body condition score just go straight out to grass.
“Cows are buffer fed with maize, caustic-treated wheat and a protein blend. The drafting gate allows us to pick the cows we feed and don’t feed.
“Our milking-cow diet for when cows are in the shed consists of 23kg of maize, 27kg of silage, 3.6kg of caustic-treated wheat and 5.7kg of a protein blend. There is a 16% total protein content in the diet.”
Continuing, John said: “Our dry cows at this time of the year are also on a total mixed ration.
“We find that feeding the cows when they’re dry results in very little, to no issues during the transition period. I have only ever seen one displaced abomasum and we have to assist very few cows.
“Their diet consists of 5kg of straw, 15kg of silage, 5kg of maize and 4kg of concentrates.”
Slurry and clover
2022 and beyond is set to be challenging for dairy farmers and giving some insight into what the focus will be on his farm, Danny said: “Farmers have always been good at adapting – the world changes, it changed when quotas went.
“Farmers are cute, we will find a way to adapt to the changes coming down the line.
“We are doing some experiments with spreading slurry on some fields and no fertiliser and we are going to compare that to fields that got fertiliser.
“We are definitely going to be looking at using our slurry more efficiently and getting the most out of it.
“We are in derogation and have been planting clover for the last three years, so hopefully it will also play a role on the farm now that it has matured.”
Future of the farm
Finally, concluding the Dairy Focus, Danny gave us some insight into the future of the Coolacork herd. He said: “Tess, my daughter is quite keen on the farm, although she managed to go away skiing in the middle of calving.
“Tess is in UCD [University College Dublin] studying Social Policy and Sociology, but is planning on starting the Green Cert in September.
“She is still only 20 so she changes her mind nearly every week, but she is still young and needs to see a bit more of the world, before she comes home farming – if that is what she wants to do.”
To read more Dairy Focus articles on Agriland, click here.